Good movie stars are hard to come by. There are a select few people out there who have what it takes to survive in Hollywood and become sought-after A-list actors. But sometimes it turns out that actors with huge acting chops have been hiding in plain sight: on television sitcoms. For many, the jump from TV to movies is nigh impossible; most don’t even try it (that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with starring in a sitcom as you can make serious bank there). But some do make the jump and succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Gathered below are six of the biggest actors that managed to go from successful (or not so successful) sitcom actors to some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
6. Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston’s huge success seemingly came out of nowhere. He went from a goofy sitcom dad in Malcolm in the Middle to one of the most sought-after actors in the industry. The start of his huge fan base can be tracked to the hit AMC show Breaking Bad, however, since then he has managed to secure himself a place in Hollywood with his Oscar-nominated performance in 2016’s Trumbo, and Godzilla before that.
5. Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox has always been one of the funniest people in the industry (and yes, he is just as funny in person). Most people know him from one of the greatest film franchises of all time, Back to the Future. However, Fox’s comedic excellence was first showcased on the sitcom Family Ties where he played constantly scheming oldest son and Young Republican Alex P. Keaton. Fox continued working on the widely successful Family Ties as he starred in more movies. Some of the most recognizable titles to his name include Doc Holiday, Life with Mikey, Greedy, and Mars Attacks! However, in the midst of his ever-growing stardom, Michael J Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and started focusing on voice-over work while seeking treatment. While continuing to make movies, he established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research which has since become the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s research in the world. His philanthropic work landed him on Time magazine’s 100 people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.” Both on and off screen, Michael J Fox has proved time and time again that he is truly a star.
4. Tom Hanks
The famous actor actually started out his career in drag. The basic premise of the Hanks and Peter Scolari starring sitcom Bosom Buddies was that two men disguise themselves as women so that they can live in the only apartment they can afford — think Three’s Company with a slightly different twist. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the series only lasted for two seasons. He also appeared in three episodes of Family Ties alongside Michael J. Fox.
However, shortly thereafter, Hanks landed his first big movie role in Splash, Hanks quickly rose to become one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood. He further proved his aptitude for comedy in the classic 80s flick The Money Pit before starring in the hugely successful film Big, which would later receive the musical treatment and become a hit on Broadway. At this point in his career, Tom Hanks had solidified himself as a star, but it wouldn’t be until Forrest Gump that he solidified himself as an icon. His career only continued to grow with movies such as Cast Away, The Green Mile, The Polar Express, and so many more.
Hanks’ illustrious film career has made a huge mark on the world of cinema, and the Library of Congress has ensured he will never be forgotten by including four of his movies (Forrest Gump, A League of Their Own, Toy Story, and Saving Private Ryan) in the National Film Registry for preservation. Who would’ve thought that the guy who started his career in a rather unsuccessful sitcom would go on to become one of the biggest stars in history?
3. Jennifer Lawrence
Pretty much everybody knows her as the ‘Girl on Fire’, but what you might not know is that J-Law started her career on The Bill Engvall Show as the daughter of the family. The show only lasted two seasons, but Jennifer Lawrence certainly went on to bigger and better things. After her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, she’s gone on to become the face of two major franchises, Hunger Games and X-Men, been nominated for four Oscars and won once (nominations were for Joy, American Hustle, and Winter’s Bone with a win for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook). Love her or hate her, there’s no denying she’s made her mark on the film industry.
2. Chris Pratt
Just a couple years ago, the name Chris Pratt was only known by fans of the Amy Poehler starring Parks and Recreation or by those who watched the WB’s teen drama Everwood back in the day. At the time, nobody cared about Guardians of the Galaxy (as most people had never heard of the comic book team) so casting funny guy Pratt in the role of a superhero didn’t really matter, even though some found it odd. Or at least that’s what we thought. Between his turns in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic World franchise, Pratt has clearly moved on beyond his “fat-guy” sitcom days.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio
When you think of Leo DiCaprio the first thought that comes to mind is, “Well, that meme is dead now.” For decades DiCaprio’s fans had been calling for the young actor to get his due and win an Oscar already. At this year’s awards, he did just that with his performance in The Revenant. However, his Oscar-winning role isn’t even close to being his only claim to fame. With huge success in films like Titanic, Shutter Island, Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, and so many more fantastic movies, everyone knows who Leo is.
But before starring on the big screen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, DiCaprio found modest success on the seventh season of the sitcom Growing Pains as the lovable character Luke. He’s certainly come along way and now the whole world knows his name.
It is no easy feat to make it in Hollywood, but these former sitcom actors prove that nothing is impossible. Sure, they all found success on TV before making the jump to the big screen, but they did it nonetheless. We loved them for making us laugh back in the day, but we love them even more for their impressive roles in movies.